“This is one of the best things I’ve done in my life,” says Bonnie Cockrum, an altruistic donor who gave one of her kidneys to a woman she met at work.
“It was a typical day,” says Bonnie, a licensed practical nurse at St. Paul’s Hospital. “One of my patients had a visitor named Deb. When Deb left, my patient told me Deb was on the transplant waitlist and that she really needed a kidney.”
That night, Bonnie went home and told her family she wanted to be the one to donate a kidney to this person she had just met.
“Meeting Deb put a face to what I know goes on for dialysis patients,” Bonnie says in explanation of her decision. At the time, Deb was spending four hours a day, three days a week on dialysis.
“Dialysis just sustains a person. It doesn’t give you quality of life,” says Deb.
At the age of 21, Deb was diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease. When she was in her mid-forties, her kidneys failed and she started dialysis. She had been on dialysis for three years when Bonnie came forward in 2010.
A week after meeting Deb, Bonnie called her and told her that she wanted to give her a kidney.
“I went silent on the phone. She probably thought, ‘What happened to this girl? Did she faint?’” Deb says, laughing. “It was so hard to fathom that a miracle like this could happen.”
But making a decision to donate is only the first step in the donation process. Bonnie then had to go through testing to make sure she was a viable match for Deb.
A few months later, Bonnie and Deb found out they were a match.
“Our match was exceptionally close for being non-family members,” says Deb.
In March 2011, Deb received Bonnie’s kidney.
“I haven’t noticed any change from having two kidneys to one kidney,” says Bonnie. “I feel happy and healthy, and so does Deb. It’s been good.”
When asked why she decided to donate to a stranger, Bonnie’s response is simple.
“Just think about what you would want for yourself or your children,” says Bonnie. “To be able to change someone’s life on such a huge scale is a wonderful feeling. It’s important to make a difference where you can in the world. This is one of the best things I’ve done in my life.”
Deb says she has no words to express the deep, heartfelt gratitude she has for Bonnie, who has become a close friend.
“Today, I have quality of life,” says Deb. “I can eat. I can exercise. I can travel. The change on my life has been drastic. She gave me my life back.
“It’s so important for people to donate,” adds Deb. “Organ donation changes lives.”